The split between Aerial Ruin and Panopticon creates a stark contrast between two very different, yet equally beautiful lessons in how to employ an acoustic guitar. Where Aerial Ruin looks skyward to express breathy sorrows, Panopticon stares down at the dirt in the dim light of a fire and sings grief into the wilderness. Yet both artists diverge from the same road—the urge and remarkable ability to tell a story.
Erik Moggridge of Aerial Ruin approaches his side of the split with a gorgeous simplicity. Opening song "Sanguine of Ail" showcases Moggridge doling out a melody on his guitar as if it were the busy left hand of a piano, while vocals linger on one note steadily in the air overtop. Moggridge explores what he’s done there further on "The Sea Is Now A Steam In The Mist of A Scream." The song reprises "Sanguine of Ail" at a quicker tempo and with the addition of quiet vocal refrains echoing his lyrics. That very same teary-eyed look toward the heavens continues on "Asempyrean" before falling out of sight and crashing to the ground on closer "Epilogue Centauri."
The interplay between guitar and vocals on the Aerial Ruin side is incredibly well done. Moggridge melds the two as if they were one instrument capable of two different timbres; a left and right hand playing the same instrument, comfortable in their melodies and unafraid to present them as they are. One standout on the Aerial Ruin side is "Lesser The Blade." Moggridge creates more of a choir effect with his vocals and continually plays two opposing parts on guitar, resulting in a mountainous, almost regal-sounding dirge fit to be played on cellos and double basses.
Austin Lunn of Panopticon sets the stage for his side of the split with the following.
"This is a collection of folk songs that are very personal to me. Some I wrote, some I didn't. Recording this record was a time of processing…it helped me get through a dark time in my life. Don't let the fire burn out."
On his side, Lunn handles all guitar and bass duties, while employing cellist Patrick Urban as additional texture. This side starts and ends with two originals acting as bookends for two covers, "North Dakota" by Chris Knight and "Cold, Cold World" by Blaze Foley. The covers are readily handled with all the rough rasp and roominess of acoustic Panopticon, but where Lunn shines here are his two originals.
We've heard acoustic Panopticon before. Lunn originally experimented with a folk-ish album on The Scars of Man On The Once Nameless Wilderness II, and then revisited the idea as an exclusively solo acoustic effort on Scars II (The Basics). Each one was a step closer to the comfort and confidence found in the two originals on this split, "No Lines Away" and "The Pit." Lunn's voice is strong and present in the room, his vocal delivery rife with pain and emotion, and his playing seemingly standing sturdier than it ever has before. These two songs aren't a foray into a new sound or steps away from having them be a part of a bigger, heavier picture. "No Lines Away" and "The Pit" are the best acoustic songs Lunn has laid to tape thus far and only further to solidify his standing a modern musical legend.
Aerial Ruin and Panopticon could've released both their sides of this split as standalone releases and they would've been great. What pushes them beyond is the way they contrast each other, offering you two completely separate insights into acoustic music that almost need to be heard back to back.